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Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Georgia Landlord Steps Up To Assist Tenants

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Georgia was one of the first states to allow businesses to reopen with necessary precautions to safeguard public health. It's been hard, if not impossible, for many businesses to get back on track.

ROBERT FRANSEN: A government can close the economy. A government really can't reopen an economy. The only thing that can reopen an economy like this is the consumers.

SIMON: That's Robert Fransen, president of Coro Realty in Atlanta. They own a number of retail properties, including shopping centers, the kind with a grocery store, a few restaurants and small specialty shops. Basically, they're a commercial landlord. And Robert Fransen made a decision to look after his tenants in this pandemic economy.

FRANSEN: We're not pressuring businesses to reopen or quite frankly to pay their bills in full because we recognize that people just weren't going shopping. They weren't getting their hair done. They weren't getting their nails done. They weren't going to restaurants.

SIMON: Robert Fransen says it's been slow going. Just 30% of his tenants were able to pay rent in April. May is looking slightly better, maybe 50%.

FRANSEN: The problem with tenants going out of business in this economy for us is, well, one, you hate to lose tenants. The more cold-blooded financial part of it is there's no ready replacement. If we lose, you know, what had been a successful restaurant, it's not like there are three other restaurants lined up to take that space.

SIMON: So instead of kicking out tenants who can't pay, his company is digging into its reserve funds and stepping up in ways landlords usually don't.

FRANSEN: We are trying to help tenants really in two different ways. One is financial and one is nonfinancial. And the financial ones, you know, we're doing the obvious things candidly. We're allowing partial rent payments. We're allowing rent deferrals. We are helping tenants apply for government assistance SBA loans and other kinds of programs that are out there.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FRANSEN: And then the nonfinancial things that we're trying to do for the tenants are - because we have a lot of mom-and-pop tenants who are really good at running their business but maybe aren't as great in how do I get the word out of takeout; how do I sign up for Uber Eats; revamping their menus so that the food just travels better, right? Not everything travels well. And then we're helping them with physical improvements. We're trying to help them expand their patios to enhance social distancing, you know, helping them think through those sorts of things.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FRANSEN: Customers want to go back to normal, right? So the demand is there. And it's very much a pent-up demand because I think people are nervous. But you can see it. I mean, I talk to my neighbors, and they're looking forward to going back to the pool and going to the local restaurants. So if these entrepreneurs can find a way to work with their landlords to hang in there, it really is about buying time for these entrepreneurs to reinvent their businesses in a way that works in this new environment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Robert Fransen, president of Coro Realty in Atlanta, talking about how the pandemic has changed the way his company does business. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.